Nabadayal : Master of oenpelli

Lofty Nabadayal

Lofty Nabadayal was one of the best and most prolific Aboriginal bark painters from Oenpelli in Western Arnhem Land. He stuck true to his rock painting background and did not incorporate styles from other areas.

I collect paintings by Nabadayal. If you have a Nabadayal painting to sell please contact me 

Lofty was born in 1926 in the Mann River area of Central Arnhem Land. He belonged to the Kunwinjku tribe. He started his painting career as a young man.

Lofty painted in rock shelters at the headwaters of the Liverpool River, south of Maningrida. He is one of the best painters in the x-ray style of bark painting, which the Oenpelli region is known for.




The high quality, intensity and fineness of his parallel line hatching often distinguish Nabadayal’s work. He painted on Rectangular bark with either a red or Black background. Lofty Nabadayal does not use crosshatching but like Dick Murra murra preferred fine parallel line work. He usually shows the internal organs and spine on his figures and animals. This is the traditional way of showing that these are not mere pictures but real beings.

Nabadayal did not attend a European school. Instead he developed deep traditional knowledge. He was a guardian to many Western Arnhem Land customary stories. Lofty was initiated to the full complement of western Arnhem Land ceremonies. He was a much-respected traditional leader. Nabadayal also did much of his later work on paper. These paintings are collectable but I prefer his barks. Some of the most desirable of these later works on Paper depict the major Western Arnhem Land ceremonies.

He began commercially bark painting for the market at Oenpelli in 1969. Many of his bark painting depict different animal species from western Arnhem Land. These include kangaroos, echidnas, crocodiles, birds, turtles and fish (Barramundi and catfish)

Rainbow Serpent

Lofty is particularly well known for his images of  Yingarna and Ngalyod the rainbow serpent. His bark painting can capture the transformational powers of these beings.

Compared to other Arnhem Land aboriginal artists Lofty Nabadayal was prolific. He is well represented in museums and collections. In sheer number of works he is only second to Yirawala. The length of his career, the sheer quantity of works means he was and still is highly sort after by collectors. Lofty’s paintings also have a certain European aesthetic. They are not as guttural as earlier painters. Some of his later works on Paper and card are not covered in this article

Nabadayal is the only Aboriginal Artist to receive the Order Of Australia. This is the highest level of recognition in Australia. He passed away in 2009. His passing marked the end of an era of earlier Oenpelli Arnhem land bark painting.

Lofty was married, with five daughters and three sons. Unfortunately, none of his children followed in their father’s footsteps to take his place as a painter of exquisite barks. He painted throughout his life. In his last years, it was a slow work due to his failing eyesight, caused by Trachoma.

Lofty rock paintings of a kangaroo, emu, goats, and a horse and rider still survive in rock shelters today. They are at Kodwalehwaleh in Arnhem Land.

Nabadayal can also be spelled  Nabardayal

References and Extra Reading

Keepers of the secrets: Aboriginal Art from Arnhemland

Crossing Country: The Alchemy of Western Arnhemland Art

All images in this article are for educational purposes only.

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Western Arnhem land Artists and Artworks

Nabadayal bark painting Images

The following images are not a complete list of the artists works. They do however give a good idea of his style and variety

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